Steve McQueen, once again, proves himself in a blatant way–that he’s a savant that goes too hard on himself. He likes to force his audiences to watch real pain of his protagonists: IRA leader, Bobby Sands on Hunger and Brandon on Shame (both played by Fassbender) display it. 12 Years A Slave is just another one.
12 Years A Slave introduces Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor)–a free man who is abducted and sold in slavery. He is given a new identity by his abductors. At first, he is sold to a more humane master, Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), who hires him as an engineer and a fiddlist. His dispute with overseer Tibeats (Paul Dano) changes everything. He’s hang on a tree–half-alive and half-dead–and forced to leave his master.
Real trouble comes along with his new master, who looks more beasts than a man, Edwin Epps (peculiarly portrayed by Michael Fassbender). Against all malicious acts done by his master, Solomon fights not only to survive but also to preserve his dignity… for twelve years.
One thing I got from 12 Years A Slave is a truth that I abhor slavery even deeper (deeper than the aftermath of Tarantino’s Django Unchained). Through this movie, all I see is not just a character study of the main protagonist like what McQueen usually shows in his movie; it’s more like an observation of what the main protagonist observe. What we can see through Solomon’s frame of psychology is not as deep as what we can see through his visions of fellow slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), or Epps, or even abolitionist-turned-savior Bass (Brad Pitt). Solomon is a medium, after all.
Ejiofor’s passionate portrayal of Solomon’s worth an Oscar buzz. Yet, as an on-screen character, Solomon often falls to his predicaments due to his own judgements. As usual, McQueen’s favorite collaborator, Fassbender, gets a full grab on his character and his impact to the story. Fassbender’s Epps is a man of power; but, he’s weak inside–weak before his God and weak before his mistress. His obsession for Patsey and how Patsey perceives it makes Lupita Nyong’o’s existence a real grace upon slavery–upon her physical wound.
12 Years A Slave displays beautiful, warm pictures of plantation everywhere upon cruel slavery…. so cruel that every stroke of whip feels so real–so cruel that how Solomon gets hang up on a tree feels so long (although it appears only a few minutes on the screen). At last, the melody of breeze and insects sounds much more touching than been-there-done-that scoring from Hans Zimmer.
“BASED ON TRUE EVENTS” label will keep your eyes watching scene to scene till you find the real triumph beyond.12 Years A Slave (2013) — Biopic, Drama, History Director: Steve McQueen Writers: John Ridley, Solomon Northup (Memoir) Cinematography: Sean Bobbit Music: Hans Zimmer Edit: Joe Walker Production Design: Adam Stockhausen Art Direction: David Stein Set: Alice Baker Costume: Patricia Norris Casts: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt